Nordmann's Greenshank, Nanhui, Shanghai, China, 17 Sept. 2016. Photo by Hiko using iPhone of Craig Brelsford.

Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!

Distinguishing non-breeding Nordmann’s Greenshank from Common Greenshank is a tricky task, but one that reaps rewards. With practice you too can feel the rush that comes when you realize that the greenshank you are viewing is not one of the most common shorebirds in Eurasia, but one of the rarest. On Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 at Nanhui, our team experienced that thrill, picking out a Nordmann’s in a roost holding a few hundred shorebirds.

We noted the following:

— Tibiae of Nordmann’s Greenshank are noticeably shorter than those of Common Greenshank.

Nordmann's Greenshank (L) has an appreciably higher 'knee' than the longer- and thinner-legged Common Greenshank (R). Both photos taken by Craig Brelsford in Yangkou, Rudong, Jiangsu in October 2014 (Nordmann's) and May 2011 (Common).
Nordmann’s Greenshank (L) has an appreciably higher ‘knee’ than the longer- and thinner-legged Common Greenshank (R). Both photos taken by Craig Brelsford at Yangkou. Photo of Nordmann’s taken October 2014; photo of Common Greenshank May 2010.

The picture above makes it clear. The biggest reason Nordmann’s is known as the stockier bird, the rugby player compared to the ballerina that is Common Greenshank, is tibia and leg length.

— Nordmann’s has a thicker neck that it often holds closer to its body and has a pronounced ventral angle (protruding belly), giving Nordmann’s a more hunched appearance than Common.

The larger head and thicker neck of Nordmann's (top) give it a more hunched appearance than the more graceful Common (bottom).
The larger head and thicker neck of Nordmann’s (top) give it a more hunched appearance than the more graceful Common (bottom). Both photos taken by Craig Brelsford at Yangkou. Photo of Nordmann’s taken October 2014; photo of Common Greenshank May 2014.

As with many of the characters of these species, the hunched stance of Nordmann’s is not always obvious, especially when the bird is active. Likewise, even a Common sometimes can appear stout. But as one’s observation time grows, the classic features of both species will emerge.

Nordmann’s has a thicker, more obviously bi-colored bill than Common.

As is the case with the legs, the bill of Nordmann's (top) is thicker than the bill of Common (bottom). The more obviously bi-colored bill of Nordmann's is yellow at the base.
As is the case with the legs, the bill of Nordmann’s (top) is thicker than the bill of Common (bottom). The more obviously bi-colored bill of Nordmann’s is yellow at the base. Photo info same as preceding.

Because the Nordmann’s at our Nanhui roost did not fly, we missed the following key characteristics:

The toes of Nordmann’s project just beyond the tail-tip; the toes of Common project farther.

With its shorter legs, Nordmann's Greenshank (top) shows just a bit of toe projection. The longer-legged Common Greenshank (bottom) shows more.
With its shorter legs, Nordmann’s (top) shows just a bit of toe projection. The longer-legged Common (bottom) shows more. Both photos taken by Craig Brelsford at Yangkou. Photo of Nordmann’s taken October 2014; photo of Common Greenshank May 2010.

This difference can be subtle, and a good camera is sometimes needed to appreciate it. But it is consistent.

Nordmann’s has a cleaner tail and underwing than Common.

The tail and underwing of Nordmann's Greenshank are clean white (panels 1, 2). The tail and underwing of Common Greenshank are streakier (3, 4). All photos in this section taken by Craig Brelsford in <a href="http://www.shanghaibirding.com/sites/yangkou/" target="_blank">Yangkou</a>, Rudong, Jiangsu in May 2011, May 2014, and October 2014.
The tail and underwing of Nordmann’s are clean white (panels 1, 2). The tail and underwing of Common are browner (3, 4). Photo info same as preceding.

Even if your Nordmann’s is roosting, you can sometimes note the white underwing. Wait for the bird to stretch out its wing.

Other differences

The calls of Nordmann’s Greenshank and Common Greenshank are markedly different. The well-known “chew-chew-chew” call of Common is never made by Nordmann’s.

In breeding plumage the species are more readily distinguishable. Nordmann’s Greenshank is also known as Spotted Greenshank for good reason. The heavily spotted underparts of breeding Nordmann’s are diagnostic. Unfortunately for birders in Shanghai, however, Nordmann’s in full breeding plumage is rarely seen.

Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer is an endangered species. Only 500 to 1,000 of these birds are thought to remain. Development along the East Asian coast is the main reason for its decline. Nordmann’s breeds in Russia, passes through China, and winters in Southeast Asia. It is present in the Shanghai area for several months each year.

OTHER GOOD STUFF

The Nordmann’s took top billing on a day that saw veteran British birder Michael Grunwell, my wife Elaine Du, and me note 71 species at Nanhui, Lesser Yangshan, and the sod farm south of Pudong Airport (31.112586, 121.824742). We were joined at the roost and Nanhui microforests by the crack high-school birding team of Larry Chen, Komatsu Yasuhiko, Chi Shu, and Andy Lee.

Our Non-Nordmann highlights:

White-winged Tern

We noted 2500 at Nanhui, by far the highest number of White-winged Tern that I have seen. They made quite a spectacle, fluttering like snowflakes over the reed beds.

Common Tern

One of the three Common Tern at the roost that contained Nordmann's Greenshank. I massively overexposed the legs (inset) to reveal the red color and nail the ID of Common. Photo by Hiko for shanghaibirding.com.
One of the three Common Tern at the roost that contained Nordmann’s Greenshank. I massively overexposed the legs (inset) to reveal a hint of the red color, enough to clinch the ID of Common. Photo by Hiko for shanghaibirding.com.

Three at the roost. Michael and I discussed whether Aleutian Tern, similar to Common Tern in winter plumage, passes through Shanghai and has been overlooked. Check for the red legs of Common; if the legs appear black, then keep investigating; you may have an Aleutian.

Ruddy Shelduck

Ruddy Shelduck is uncommon in Shanghai; I have recorded flocks at Chongming but had never seen the species at Nanhui. We saw a single Ruddy in the marshy agricultural land north of Lúcháo (芦潮; 30.851111, 121.848528).

Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Great Knot, Red Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler

The godwits, knots, and tattlers were in the dry roost with the Nordmann’s. Every one of these species is at least near-threatened; Great Knot is endangered.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

After the excitement with the Nordmann’s at the roost, the seven of us covered the microforests. Our teamwork paid off with a view of Black-winged Cuckooshrike, an uncommon passage migrant in Shanghai.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata is the most numerous member of its genus to pass through the Shanghai region. Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei also passes through, but in smaller numbers.
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata is the most numerous member of its genus to pass through Shanghai. Amur Paradise Flycatcher T. incei also passes through, but in smaller numbers. I found this individual, a male, in Microforest 2 (30.926138, 121.970795). Like most male paradise flycatchers on passage in Shanghai, it was missing its spectacular elongated tail feathers.

Yet another near-threatened species, Terpsiphone atrocaudata is common on migration in Shanghai. We noted 10 on Saturday. Care must be taken to separate this species from Amur Paradise Flycatcher T. incei, which passes through Shanghai in smaller numbers. Male and female Japanese have a more extensive dark hood, extending almost to the belly, whereas that of Amur extends only to the upper breast. Consult your field guide for more differences.

On Lesser Yangshan we found Oriental Dollarbird. Our final stop was the sod farm south of Pudong International Airport, where we found 4 Pacific Golden Plover and 200 Oriental Pratincole.

Day Lists
My first reference is IOC World Bird List.

List 1 of 3 for Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 (64 species)

Nordmann's Greenshank stands among waders at a dry roost in Nanhui, Shanghai, Sat. 17 Sept. 2016. Note the high 'knee,' obviously bi-colored bill, and hunched stance. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford's iPhone 6.
Nordmann’s Greenshank stands among waders at a dry roost in Nanhui, Shanghai, Sat. 17 Sept. 2016. We found the birds at 30.920549, 121.963247. Note the high ‘knee,’ obviously bi-colored bill, and hunched, ‘no-neck’ stance. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko using Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford’s iPhone 6.

Birds noted around Pudong Nanhui Dongtan Wetland (Pǔdōng Nánhuì Dōngtān Shīdì [浦东南汇东滩湿地]; 30.920507, 121.973159), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Includes birds found along Shijitang Road between 31.000204, 121.938145 & 30.851114, 121.848527. Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 06:20-08:35, 11:55-16:35. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea 1
Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus 1
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis 8
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 20
Great Egret A. alba 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 150
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 40
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 3
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 3
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 2
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 10
Lesser Sand Plover Charadrius mongolus 50
Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus 50
Little Ringed Plover C. dubius 10
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa melanuroides 40
Bar-tailed Godwit L. lapponica 5
Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris 15
Red Knot C. canutus 20
Broad-billed Sandpiper C. falcinellus 20
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata 40
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 40
Dunlin C. alpina 20
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe Gallinago stenura/megala 5
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus 3
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 5
Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes 2
Common Greenshank T. nebularia 3
Nordmann’s Greenshank T. guttifer 1
Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis 30
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 18
Common Redshank T. totanus 1
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum 30
Little Tern Sternula albifrons 20
Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica 30
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus ca. 2500
Whiskered Tern C. hybrida 30
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Red Turtle Dove Streptopelia tranquebarica 2
Spotted Dove S. chinensis 5
Cuculus sp. 4
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 3
Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos 1
Tiger Shrike Lanius tigrinus 1
Brown Shrike L. cristatus 12
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 15
Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis 3
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata 10
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica ca. 200
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 10
Arctic/Kamchatka Leaf/Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealis/examinandus/xanthodryas 3
Pale-legged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler P. tenellipes/borealoides 3
Eastern Crowned Warbler P. coronatus 5
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 3
Plain Prinia Prinia inornata 6
Reed Parrotbill Paradoxornis heudei 4
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Sinosuthora webbiana 15
Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus 8
Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta 1
Asian Brown Flycatcher M. dauurica 5
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis 1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 25
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis 10
Grey Wagtail M. cinerea 1
White Wagtail M. alba leucopsis 3

List 2 of 3 for Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 (13 species). Birds noted on Lesser Yangshan Island (Xiǎo Yángshān [小洋山]), island in Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang, China. List includes birds noted at Temple Mount (30.639866, 122.048327). Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 09:10-11:05. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 3
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus 1
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis 1
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis 1
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus 8
Long-tailed Shrike L. schach 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
Light-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus sinensis 8
Oriental Reed Warbler Acrocephalus orientalis 3
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus 10
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis 2
Richard’s Pipit Anthus richardi 2
Anthus sp. 2

List 3 of 3 for Sat. 17 Sept. 2016 (18 species). Birds noted at sod farm south of Pudong International Airport (31.112586, 121.824742), Pudong, Shanghai, China. Cloudy with drizzle, turning partly sunny. Low 22° C, high 27° C. Visibility 10 km. Wind NE 26 km/h. PM2.5 AQI: 42 (good). Sunrise 05:40, sunset 17:56. Note: On Thurs. 15 Sept. 2016, Typhoon Meranti struck Fujian & Zhejiang & dumped much rain on Shanghai. SAT 17 SEP 2016 17:10-18:10. Craig Brelsford, Elaine Du, & Michael Grunwell.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Eastern Cattle Egret Bubulcus coromandus 15
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax 150
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus 20
Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva 4
Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus 2
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius ca. 150
Temminck’s Stint Calidris temminckii 8
Long-toed Stint C. subminuta 6
Red-necked Stint C. ruficollis 30
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 3
Pin-tailed/Swinhoe’s Snipe G. stenura/megala 6
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 8
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis 12
Wood Sandpiper T. glareola 20
Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum ca. 200
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis tschutschensis 60

Featured image: Nordmann’s Greenshank stands among wader roost at Nanhui, 17 Sept. 2016. Using the principles described in this post, our team was able to ID this Nordmann’s. Photo by Komatsu Yasuhiko (“Hiko”) using his Kowa TSN 883 Prominar spotting scope and Kowa TSN IP6 adapter and Craig Brelsford’s iPhone 6.

Published by

Craig Brelsford

Craig Brelsford lives in Shanghai, where he runs shanghaibirding.com and studies Chinese at the Shanghai University of Engineering Sciences.

2 thoughts on “Your Handy-Dandy Nordmann’s Greenshank ID Primer!”

  1. Hi Craig

    Excellent article.
    Just a question. Can you specify the location in Nanhui where the picture of the banner of the present page has been shot (the one with the multiple birds on the mud flat)?
    Many thanks

    1. Hi Louis, and thanks for writing. As noted in the post, we found the Nordmann’s Greenshank and other waders at 30.920549, 121.963247. Drive 4.2 km north from the Holiday Inn along the sea-wall road and make a left onto the road leading inland. Drive inland on that road a few hundred meters.

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